" Untouchables in the Center of the Holy Lands
"When this Black Man went to Mecca"
By Faison 19X Moamin
I was half asleep when the screech of reville blasted my sleepy brain. Man, I hated that noise, but that wasn't the worst part at all. The worst part , I think, was that stale urine-like stench that always seemed to drift around, like some funky yellow fog. Yeah, that's something that you ought not to be smelling while waking up at 5:00 in the morning on your day off.
There wasn't any point in faking sleep, nope, it was way too late for that. My upper bunkmate had heard me move, so, his grimy long toe-nailed feet were already perched on the edge of my mattress as he proceeded to climb down. Excitement was definitely in the air. Lockers were being opened and closed, cigarettes were being lit, and last nights alcoholics were doing their morning moans. Yeah, you could feel the in-port anticipation.. and yes indeedy I was glad to be hitting dry land at last.
All 29 of my roommates had gotten up by about 6:30. We all sat around staring at each other, that is until someone turned on the TV. "Where are we today?", someone half mumbled. I didn't care.. as long as it wasn't another ocean.
The TV popped and buzzed slowly on. A faded grey image of the Captain and the Master Chief started to come into focus. They were both yapping away as usual.. "..don't do this here, ..don't do that here..., blah, blah, blah.", the same old pull-into-port rigamoro. Then he said the word that caused silence to fall in the room..., the name of where we were..." Jeddah". It went as quite as a school hallway at 2:15 in the morning.
" Jeddah"..."Jeddah"..."Jeddah", the other guys kept saying , as if it were some word that they wern't quite comprehending. Then I felt it.., that on-the-spot-feeling, right before you know you're going to be on the spot.
Abruptly, Petty Officer Mongo, ( who looks just like his name sounds ), spoke. "Your'e right at home aint ya Fayz?", he said in a sarcastic Texas tone . This was followed by the usual rounds of fake peer pressured laughs. But yeah, I was kinda was expecting it.
You see; Jeddah is about 20 miles outside the holy city of Mecca , which is like Bethleham is to the Christians. Needless to say, ..no $12 dollar women, no cheap alcohol, no McDonalds, etc., , or any of the sordid sort of things the average Joe sailor finds amusing. Yes siree, we were smack dab in the heart of Al-Islam, but to my comrades, it might as well have been a tour of a watch-the-paint-dry gallery.
Well, ..regardless of what they thought, I was anxious to get off the boat, and see the sights. So at that point, I put on my meanest looking gangster face. I then proceeded to kick the table were Mongo and his clique were still lolly gagging. Feeling much better, I walked out the room and left the ship.
My first stop was to a local mosque I had seen on the horizon from the ship. As I neared it, with the intention of doing midday prayers, I was met by scores of hateful looks and I could practically feel the "evil eye" on my back. " Geez.. this is crazy" I thought,; but I guess my American demeanor and clothing was like some blaze orange hunting gear at the prom. Well, I had enough of that so I left that area and headed down a narrow alley way that was close by, curious as to where it would lead me to. Maybe things would get better.
The heat was crazy... it was like the heat that cooks your eyeballs for 3 seconds when you open up the oven to peep at a cooking cake. But this heat wouldn't go away..., there wasn't any door to close or knob to turn off; man it was hot! And if that wasn't bad enough, mounds of crummy Saudi Arabian sand were starting to pile up inside my sneakers. I wasn't digging this at all.
The alley that I was still walking in, started to get narrower and dirtier. It looked like some scene out of some Indiana Jones movie. You know,.. women with black viels over their faces, holding big clay pots; little kids with kufi's running back and forth, and bugs buzzing. Everything fit the scene, but I guess it was the dim lighting that, and the feel of all eyes staring at me, that made the whole scenario kinda creepy. This day was just not going as I had expected.
Finally, the alley started to widen and open up into some sort of "center square". Oddly, there in the middle of the busy center, were two small children laying down on the ground.! Both their backs were turned to me so I couldn't really see their faces, but all I could think was, what kind of insane parents would leave their children in the middle of a street with cars, rats, and roaches scurrying around them!?
Well, since nobody seemed to be helping.., as a matter of fact , no one even seemed to notice them at all; I began to approach them to find out what was up. When I got close enough to hear them, I was mesmerized by the little girl singing some Quranic verses in Arabic, while the boy beside her was saying " Alms..ALms.."
I walked in front of them to ask them what was going on.., but was startled by what I saw. Both of them were my color and wrapped in dirty brown robes; they couldn't have been more than four or five. But as I looked at their faces, my stomach flipped in knots... it was their eyes..., they had none.
Not simply blind, no, not at all. Where there should have been sparkling happy brown eyes of a 4 year old..., there were two puss red sinkholes,. There were only scabbed and crusted over pits in the face of the other wise pretty little girls face. And the boy wasn't that better off...; his eyes were totally white, like the face of some old Greek statue.
"Bismiallah, a salaam alakum", the little girl started to sing-song as she sensed my presence. Then up came two tiny brown opened palms, red flesh exposed on her bony elbows. Nearby insects had already started to congregate in the coagulating sores that covered them both.
Then the little boy stood up , trying to determine where I was. hands outstretched feeling some invisible ledge. As he hobbled towards my left side, a tall Arab man in spotlessly white garments, pushed the child aside ( quite the contrary to how a muslim should be acting! ) and kept on walking. The little boy fell back down hard onto the ground. His dirty robe already starting to soak up a large pool of steadily growing black hashish-spit, that the passerbys continued to add to, even as the little boy still lay there!
I couldn't believe what I was seeing.., the man, obviously financially secure, just pushed this poor little kid on the nasty ground, just cause he didn't want to walk around! And even worse than the actual act..., was the fact that he never even blinked an eye, as if he didn't even give these small persons a second thought. To him, and everyone around them, these children deserved the equal respect one would give an empty soda can that was in your walkway!. And here I was.. 20 miles outside a so-called, holy city..., and yet these peoples conduct was incomprehensible... and these two kids sitting there, on the ground, in a pool of black spit and despair.
I looked in my pocket for some money, but all I had was a now useless Visa and a overcharged AT&T card. Not a dirahm, not a dollar.., not a crumb. And all the while, the cars had begun to honk at me for standing in their way. A heavy sadness, fell over me, and I was forced to rub my eyes and catch my breath. But as quick as it came, it was gone..., and in its place a uneasy uncomfortable feeling grew. I no longer wanted any part of the whole depressing scene, so I too subtly melted back into the crowd.
And as I shuffled along, feeling sheltered in the faceless crowd, I heard the little girl start to resume her melodic singing. I felt bad..., just plain bad..., worse than I've ever felt before. And as I keep walking , and thinking of the hot sand in my $125 dollar NIKE's , feeling mad at my self and this society..., I couldn't help but keep wondering ...could those infection filled holes still cry? I hoped not.
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